Congress’ Problem is Not Indian Muslims

The BJP has grown all these years right under the nose of the Congress, at the expense of the Congress and with the blessings of the Congress! Not because of its much-trumped munificence and ‘soft corner’ for the Muslims!

Aijaz Zaka Syed
Srinagar, Publish Date: Mar 19 2018 11:44PM | Updated Date: Mar 19 2018 11:44PM
Congress’ Problem is Not Indian MuslimsFile Photo

Indian Muslims fell out of love with the Congress, long before Rajiv Gandhi decided to unlock the doors of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, unleashing a monster that continues to maul the Indian polity.

The Muslims haven’t still gotten over the fact that it was under the Congress that idols were first sneaked into the 16th century mosque in 1949 and it was a Congress government that allowed ‘shilanyas’ (foundation) ceremony for Ram temple at the mosque. Again it was under Narasimha Rao of the Congress that a Hindu mob was allowed to amass in Ayodhya and eventually destroy the mosque on December 6, 1992.   

No wonder the Congress remained the most hated and despised political party for Muslims throughout the 90s, perhaps even more than the BJP. They strategically voted against it wherever possible, keeping the party out of power for long years and giving rise to regional and secular parties.  They were prepared to vote for anyone but the Congress. 

So when Sonia Gandhi took over the reins of the grand old party of Gandhi and Nehru, it took her years of hard work and reaching out that persuaded the Muslims to forgive the party.  They saw Sonia’s Congress as a different beast than what it had become under Indira Gandhi and her sons. 

The Congress was seen as a more secular and inclusive party for minorities and oppressed communities, especially after it chose Manmohan Singh as its Prime Minister. Besides, they saw it as the only party capable of confronting the rising Hindutva. 

This is why it’s interesting that the Congress leadership is now overwrought by the notion that it is perceived by the Hindus as a “pro-Muslim party”.  Speaking at the India Today Conclave last week, following her powerful speech spotlighting the dangerous course that the nation has taken under the BJP, Sonia emphasised that the Congress is taking steps to “correct” this perception.

Course correction is welcome of course, if you know what has gone wrong in the first place! Who would have any issues, if the Congress reaches out to the electorate whose majority happens to be Hindu? But if the voters have dumped the party that led India’s freedom movement and ruled the country for decades after Independence, it has nothing to do with the Muslims or its ‘bias’ in favour of the minority. 

Ironically, the alleged appeasement and pampering of Muslims by the Congress has long been the myth spawned by the BJP in its attempts to woo Hindu voters. The saffron party has exploited it successfully over the years to create an absurd fear psychosis and victimhood in the 80% Hindu majority vis-à-vis a voiceless minority that is, according to official statistics, barely around 13 per cent. The BJP has used the Muslim bogey to grow from the margins of Indian politics into the monster of a party that now rules 21 of India’s 29 states.  And by looking at this meteoric rise of the BJP as a fallout of the Congress’ “pro-Muslim policies,” the Congress leadership is beginning to believe the myth perpetuated by the Hindutva. 

Truth be told, if the BJP has reached this far it is not because of the Congress’ appeasement of Muslims but because of its criminal failure to confront it ideologically and check its politics of hate and intolerance all these years. Ignoring the historical role of various Hindutva organisations in the destabilisation of the country by purveying hate and strife between Hindus and Muslims and their role in Gandhi’s assassination as well as thousands of anti-Muslim riots, successive Congress governments humoured them and looked the other way. Not one person involved in all those thousands of riots under the Congress has ever been convicted.    

It is under the Congress that thousands of shakhas of the RSS, the ideological parent of the governing BJP, have operated openly preaching hate and arms training to impressionable Hindu children and youth. It’s thanks to that groundwork and indoctrination by the RSS under the watchful eyes of the Congress that the BJP is in power today and enjoys absolutely unassailable position across the length and breadth of India.  For which the Congress has to blame no one but itself.  

The fact is, the BJP has grown all these years right under the nose of the Congress, at the expense of the Congress and with the blessings of the Congress! Not because of its much-trumped munificence and ‘soft corner’ for the Muslims! The number of those killed in anti-Muslim riots across the country since Independence runs in millions.  Ensnared in false cases by security agencies, thousands of young, promising lives have been scarred and wrecked forever. 

While a significant majority of Indian Muslims rejected the idea of Pakistan and consciously chose to stay back in India, charmed by Nehru’s liberal, effervescent personality and the idea of a secular and inclusive India, the Congress presided over a systematic devaluing, degenerating and dehumanising of the minority community.   Using its famous politics of tokenism and feeding stereotypes of skullcap sporting netas fraternising with the community, it has managed to keep Muslims down in the dumps in every respect. 

Even as the Congress allowed the Hindu Right to grow into an unstoppable force that it has become today, the Congress used the spectre of Hindutva to keep Muslims locked away forever in their ghettoes. If the Indian Muslim today finds himself at the absolute bottom of the pit, below lowest of the low, in terms of every socio-political and economic indicator and stares at an increasingly bleak future in the land of his ancestors, the credit solely goes to the Congress. 

Without a voice and presence reflecting their population size in Parliament and assemblies, in government services and the highest decision making bodies of the country, the dispossession and powerlessness of Muslims is complete and unprecedented. India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh with a population of more than 200 million and more than 20% of them being Muslims, did not elect a single Muslim out of 80 Members of Parliament in the 2014 Elections. There are just 22 Muslims in the current Parliament of 545 members. Which is less than 4.2%, the lowest ever in history. Their representation in civil services is around 2.5%; it’s equally negligible in police and security forces. 

In his book, Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India, the late Dr Omar Khalidi argues that not only is the number of Muslims wearing Indian army fatigues not proportional to their share in the population, it is politically indeterminate and potentially minuscule. When Mulayam Singh became defence minister, he suggested that it stood around 1%.

No wonder the politically and economically dispossessed minority is seen as the “safest enemy to have” in India today, in the words of Ajay Gudavarthy.  Anyone can get away with murder and more and often does. As the party that has governed India for more than half a century, the Congress is solely responsible for this state of affairs.  Yet the Muslims have supported it again and again – along with other communities of course -- ignoring its historic sins because they see it as relatively more broad-based in nature representing India’s pluralism. 

Not only has the Congress long taken this steadfast Muslim support for granted without giving anything in return, in its increasing desperation to reach out to the majority, it is now beginning to see it as a millstone around its neck. 

But if the grand old party thinks it can win back the majority by deliberately shunning the minority and by endless temple visits, it is welcome to its delusions.  In any case, it is not the Muslims who need the Congress.  It is the other way around. The Congress can win back the voters’ confidence – Hindus, Muslims and everyone else -- by not playing these cheap, self-serving sectarian games with the BJP but by going back to the values and ideas that it once inspired it – inclusion, secularism and progress for all.   

 

 

(Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and editor.)

 

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